But Still There is More…

I Corinthians 12: 12-30

It’s hard to ignore Paul’s letter to the Corinthians today, not simply because of its length, but we’re at that point where it is truly some of his most poetic writings and a beautiful crescendo to his message to Corinth.  Unfortunately, we’ve picked up nearly three quarters into the letter so it also stands outside of the larger context of his message to this community.  If you go back to the beginning, Paul begins to question who they have become.  There’s a question about the divisiveness in the community and how he has watched it splinter over issues surrounding competition and superiority, so from the beginning he tries to move them to a place of their deeper identity in Christ.  Paul, without a doubt, is very much in touch with the fact that he’s born in that image and likeness and understands what it means to be a person or community to be living in Christ and Corinth has strayed.  It’s become about exclusion, about who has the greatest gift, about a sense of hierarchy, a reminder of Paul of what happens when we don’t move to the deeper places in our lives and become trapped by what we think is important simply with our eyes.

Paul, though, envisions a very different community and struggles with what he has seen.  Paul sees the potential of Corinth but he also sees their own lack of growing in the faith.  They have become content with the way it is, which walls them off from going deeper and also begins the splintering of the community.  Last week we heard him speak of the gifts coming from one Spirit and next week the climactic reading on love, but today he spells it out through the metaphor of the body and the value of all the parts and a warning about cutting off the parts that have been seen as less viable.  If there’s anything we can learn from Paul it is that it is often in the weakest parts of our body that we find the greatest value.  We can often learn the most about ourselves and become whole, as he desires, by looking at what we have chose to ignore, the people we have cut off, the ones we have excluded over time. 

This is the community that has decided to exclude others from this meal.  They have made the point at times to cause scandal in the life of the greater community.  They have, in many ways, done harm to themselves by not cutting others off from them but by that very act, excluding themselves from the larger community, creating not a community that welcomes but rather a community that wants to pick and choose who they deem worth to be a part of them.  In one of the most beautiful of ways, Paul tries to take them back to their core, to who they really are and what it means to say, “in Christ”.  For Paul it means everything to every community that he writes to that we hear throughout the year.  Often what appears to be our greatest weakness, the “cause of our downfall” winds up being the “means of our salvation”.  Their very sin as a community can lead them to their own demise or can be seen as an invitation to reclaiming themselves “in Christ”.  That lies at the heart of what Paul has to say when he writes to these communities, but in particular to the people of Corinth who often just agonized Paul because of what he had witnessed with them.

It’s not to say that Paul thinks any less of all the gifts and all that they contribute to the life of the community.  That would miss his point.  The very next word can be summed in simply by saying, “but”.  All of this is important, but there’s still more.  He will go onto to remind them that if it’s not rooted in love, and if it causes splintering and a community turning in on itself, then it’s not rooted in love, then it’s all for naught.  As a matter of fact, he continues in this section that if you still think it’s about all of this stuff, competing and comparing, putting yourself above others, and all the rest, then you still remain in a childish faith and have not allowed yourself to grow into an adult in the faith.  Read on; it’s right there is writing!  When we continue, as community, as country, or even as individuals, hung up on being right and others wrong, splintering ourselves, then there remains a crisis of faith in the community because you’re missing your deeper identity.  It’s all well and good, but understand it means the death of the community in the end because you will splinter yourself a part that way.  The path forward is to grow in dialogue through our deeper identity, where is a common ground, where there is a mutuality in seeing the other as person, seeing the other as an intricate part of the body and a worthy part of the body.

Paul’s words ring just as true today as they did centuries ago.  Whether it’s our own community, the larger community, or certainly our country.  We fail to take the deeper journey to a more whole life, a holy life.  It had to have broken Paul’s heart along the way as he watched the demise of some of these communities, and more often than not, at their own doing.  He watches them become simply about themselves and losing their deeper identity.  He watches them stunted in their own growth in faith and lack thereof.  For Paul, what matters most is that you remain grounded “in Christ”.  When we allow ourselves to fall into that mystery once again, we not only find ourselves connected as a human race, but the promise made by God long ago remains eternal, the promise of life.

What Do You Want me to do For You?

It seems rather ridiculous that Jesus would ask blind Bartimaeus, “what do you want me to do for you” in light of the fact that we are all aware and know his condition, he’s blind. Wouldn’t that be the obvious answer for Bartimaeus or for any of us, for that matter, that I’d want to see? But maybe it isn’t that obvious. What makes this encounter different, knowing that this section of Mark’s gospel began with a healing of another blind guy, where the same question was never posed to him?

I have used that question many times in hearing confessions with people and we often have no idea just how hard it is to answer. I dare say that it carries with it a lot of our baggage, at least what I have been able to tell in talking with people. Our automatic reply is that God already knows what we want. Another response is a thinking that we’re not worthy enough to be asked such a question, holding not a great deal of guilt and shame that prevents us from even hearing the question. It’s not easy to identity the deepest longings of the heart and soul, especially when we really believe that there is something wrong with us, not even recognizing that it’s not only the healing but also a restoration of our dignity in God’s infinite creation.

However, before we even get to the question in today’s gospel there is first a call that takes place. Bartimaeus calls out to Jesus and in turn Jesus calls him. Remember some of the other stories we’ve heard these past weeks. It wasn’t that long ago that we heard the call of the rich man and we know how that ends; he walks away sad, unable to give up his riches. Although the disciples are directly called, they were fighting over who was the greatest, brothers bickering about who will sit on the left and right, unable to give up there thirst for power. And then the call today, from Bartimaeus and to Bartimaeus. Maybe this takes us to that deeper place of the question asked by Jesus, leading to an authentic call and response from the one who has given it all up and then follows the Lord. The one who is powerless in the life of the community, seeks the Lord in his own desperation, humbled and primed for this encounter.

The irony for all of us, though, is we often are not aware of our own blindness and blindspots that we have. The more the Lord calls out, we can continue to get stuck in that question of worthiness, believing the shame and guilt we’ve lived with our entire lives, thinking that’s the way, believing that voice when it calls. Yet, that voice of the Lord will continue to call out and penetrate through the blindness of our lives until the call from within is in union with the call from beyond, an encounter with the living Lord as it is with Bartimaeus.

As we know it was never an easy response for Israel either. They often found themselves being asked that question from within and beyond and seemingly lost over and over again, whether in the Exodus or in exile as many of the prophets write, such as Jeremiah today. Yet, that voice never stops calling them forward. But like Bartimaeus, they too often have to reach the point of desperation and humility, letting go of their own pride and shame before they can respond to the call to return to the land of life. Just at that moment when you think you can’t go any further, the mercy and love of God unfolds, eyes are opened, and we follow on the way.

In the end, the call and response is one and the same, coming from and to that voice of God that calls us out like Bartimaeus. How often do we not have time to even listen to it or get stuck in the worthiness question that prevents us from the free response to the Lord. Bartimaeus provides us the opportunity to sit with your imagination in prayer and to begin to hear the voice of Jesus speak to us, “what do you want me to do for you,” but rather than shying away, allow yourself even to be moved to tears, knowing, like Batimaues, God’s mercy and love has begun to penetrate our blindness and we can be restored to wholeness and holiness. Once penetrated, we too will pick up and follow on the way and our lives will be forever changed.

Seeking the Lost

Luke 15: 1-32

A baseball player by the name of Cory Brand (from the movie Home Run) has the potential of being one of the greatest in the game.  His problem, though, is he’s become a liability to the team and in many ways, to himself.  He has a history, like all of us, and his has much darkness to it as well.  It follows him around like his shadow and results in living a life of rage, anger, and alcoholism.  It eventually costs him his dream and will force him to finally confront the darkness, the lost places within his own life; the ones that so often just need to be loved.  He will have to seek out the relationships, the hardships, the hurts, and all that comes with the dark history before he can truly begin to find his potential and purpose in life.

Seeking out the lost is what this gospel today is all about.  Taken in its totality, it is often referred to as the “lost and found” gospel with the lost sheep, the crazy story of the lost coin, and of course, the parable of the two lost sons, both lost in their own way.  In hearing this gospel and these parables that are being told to the scribes and pharisees who are complaining that Jesus is “eating with sinners”, you could imagine that with each passing parable, their blood is boiling, reaching a climax with the older son, which in many ways is the pharisee in each of us…quick to judge, holding grudges, jealous, thinking we know better, resentful, thinking others don’t “deserve” the father’s love.  We really are all these characters, not only the older, but the younger as well who runs from his problems and wishes his father dead, like he’s not even there.  Can’t we see ourselves in these two sons and their lostness?  What is often lost in us is what we don’t want to see about ourselves, the fleeting younger son and the resentful elder are both there.

The main point of the stories though, of all three, are how the main characters go out seeking those lost parts to try to reconcile and bring wholeness back into the “fold”.  The shepherd seeks the sheep, the woman, in probably the most absurd of the stories in our day and age when none of us would look for a lost coin, and the father who literally goes out to try to bring back the lost sons, successful in at least one.  The father doesn’t do it by trying to coerce or convince these brothers that they need to come home, but rather confronts the lost parts of his life with love to where they want to come home.  Rather than running from our lostness or growing more and more resentful, the father in us must go out seeking those lost parts with love.  It is often love that has been missing in those lost parts and only love that can bring about that healing and reconciliation that can bring about the wholeness and holiness in our lives.

Like Cory, and these sons, we often have to hit rock bottom.  Our painful history will follow us wherever we go until we are willing to confront it with love.  The more we hate on it and run from it, the more bitter and resentful, and disconnected we become in life.  We desire that wholeness and holiness, but it can only come by seeking out the lost within our own lives and to love it.  When we can confront our own lostness with love, the call in seeking out the lost in the community will bring about new meaning and purpose.  Today we pray that we may have the courage to tackle our own history and the lostness of it.  That’s the thing, it’s exactly in those places in our lives that God is leading us and where grace is most abundant.  We can run or avoid, but like Cory, it will follow us like our own shadow.  To reach our fullest potential and to become what God has created us to be, we must seek that wholeness and holiness that comes from the abundant love and grace of a father seeking out his lost children, for that is who we are.